Learn more about the sculptor’s life, work, and the depth of the Museum’s holdings.
In a career that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) was deeply inspired by tradition yet rebelled against its idealized forms, introducing innovative practices that paved the way for modern sculpture. He believed that art should be true to nature, a philosophy that shaped his attitudes to models and materials.
Rodin worked in traditional sculptural materials such as clay, wax, plaster, bronze, and marble. Although he did not attend the renowned École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, he learned the craft of sculpture through experience and years of employment in the studios of other artists. As he explained, "In addition to sculpture and design, I myself have worked at all sorts of things. I've cut down marbles, and pointed them; I've done etching, and lithography, bronze founding and patina; I've worked in stone, made ornaments, pottery, jewelry—perhaps even too long; but it all has served. It's the material itself that interested me. In short, I began as an artisan, to become an artist. That's the good, the only, method." Once he became an established artist, Rodin relied on a large studio of assistants to help him create large-scale works. Their presence allowed him to delegate the production aspects of his sculptures so that he could focus on conceiving and executing new pieces.
Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to exhibit works by Auguste Rodin. In 1876, the French artist sent eight sculptures to the Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park. His work was awarded no medals and the press made no mention of the young sculptor, leaving Rodin disappointed by his American debut. He had no idea the city would one day house one of the greatest single collections of his work outside of Paris.
On August 16, 1880, Rodin received a commission to create a pair of bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris. Although the museum did not come to fruition and the doors were never fully realized, The Gates of Hell
became the defining project of Rodin's career and a key to understanding his artistic aims. During the thirty-seven-year period that the sculptor worked on the project he continually added, removed, or altered the more than two hundred human figures that appear on the doors. Some of his most famous works, like The Thinker
, The Three Shades
, or The Kiss
, were originally conceived as part of The Gates and were only later removed, enlarged, and cast as independent pieces.